Friday, January 10, 2014

8, 9, 10...Ready or Not, Here I Come!

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus comes to John at the riverbank, joining the throngs of people who had travelled to hear John’s message and to undergo baptism.

Jesus comes to the riverbank with the followers, not as a leader. He takes the journey of common men and women. He participates in their ritual and he submits to John’s baptism.

Jesus comes to the riverbank and John takes him in his arms and plunges him under the water. Jesus stops breathing as the water washes over him. John then helps him to his feet again, the heavens open to Jesus and God proclaims his love and favor.

Jesus comes to John in this familiar story. But can you imagine John’s response? Here he is doing his baptism thing when up walks Jesus. John senses he's the one. John knows it is Jesus, and John is humbled by his mere presence. When Jesus asks to be baptized he balks.

John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

Surely, Jesus should not be submitting to John’s baptism. It should be the other way around. My guess is that John feels unworthy and incapable of the great task set before him. Surely the Messiah should be the one in the leadership role. Surely it should be Jesus taking John into his arms and plunging him into the river as a holy statement of who is who, a visible sign of who is really in charge here.

Left to his own devices and following his own instincts, John would have prevented the baptism of Jesus. If it were up to John, he would have let his feeling of inadequacy stop it from happening. He must have had a bunch of doubts running through his mind: How can I be the one to do this? I'm not prepared for this! He asks Jesus, You come to Me?

Biblically, it’s not uncommon for God to call people who feel totally inadequate, incapable or unqualified. They all have good and valid reasons to say thanks, but no thanks. Abraham and Sarah were really old, they couldn’t possibly birth a child and be the parents of an entire nation. In fact, when told of their call, Sarah laughs to herself at the news. Abraham’s response is even bigger as he falls on his face laughing at God as if the plan were some sort of cosmic joke. But it happens.

Moses stalls, too. When God calls him to go challenge Pharaoh he demurs, saying I’m not eloquent. I’m slow of speech. But he goes. When confronted with God, the prophet Isaiah says, Woe is me I’m a man of unclean lips. But he speaks as a prophet. Paul says, You can’t use me, everyone knows I sent Christians to prison and beat them. But, you guessed it, despite a rock solid reason for opting out, God used him.

In one way or another each of these Bible heros said what John said to Jesus: Do you come to me?

Really? You want me?

The answer to the “Do you come to me?” question is yes. God does come to you. God comes to me. God comes to us in all of our glorious inadequacies. Not just for our own benefit, but for God’s benefit. God comes to us with expectations. God comes to us expecting that we will participate in the Missio Dei, the mission on God. And we are to respond to that call of God, even when we don’t feel qualified. Even though we aren’t qualified.

It’s easy to assume that there is someone more qualified (like Jesus) to do the work of God. It’s easier to say, It’s in God’s hands and than to do something with our own hands. It’s easier to say, I’ll pray for you than to find two hours in our day to sit and talk to a friend about his depression or her job loss.

As a hospital chaplain, I’d often feel unqualified. For months on end I felt nothing but unqualified. How could I possibly help a young mother dying of cancer? What wisdom did I have for a Jewish woman who lay moaning in fever? Other than words, what did I have for a man who was terrified of dying because he felt his sin so heavily on his heart? 

The truth of the matter is that I was unqualified in all of those circumstances. It also didn’t matter. What mattered is that I went into each of the hospital rooms anyway. What mattered is that I walked in knowing that I couldn’t fix anything or save anyone. What mattered was that I was there, hearing their stories and speaking words of love and forgiveness. Not evangelizing. Just loving. What mattered wasn’t my inadequacy, but Christ’s presence through me. What mattered was my willingness to do it even though it seemed crazy and hopeless.

Spending time as a hospital chaplain taught me to be more comfortable with my own inadequacy, to not let it stop me from doing the ministry that God was calling me to do--at least some of the time. And trust me, like John, if there was any way I could have prevented that chaplaincy from happening, I would have. I did not want to spend 8 months as a hospital chaplain. But I did. 
In our passage today, Jesus comes to be baptized. Jesus comes to John.  And it says John would have prevented him. Such a predictable, human response! So like us.

And yet this story is so like God. God chose a feeble man to father the nations, not an overtly fertile one. God chose a man who was slow of speech – who may have had a stutter—to speak for the Israelites. God chose a killer to help birth the church.

God didn’t wait until the world was perfect before entering it. God isn’t about using the best or the most of anything. God comes into our world and our lives just as they are. Jesus comes to John to be baptized and John feels unprepared. 

In our story, God comes to Jesus there in the river. Before Jesus speaks of word of wisdom. Before Jesus heals a single person. Before Jesus takes to the cross, God comes. The Spirit descends like a dove and says this is my son, with whom I am well pleased.  

Do you come to me?

Yes. God comes to you. Ready or not. 

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